KING CONGIE – Mike Masiello gave an emotional tribute to the late namesake of King Congie at Thursday morning’s Alibi Breakfast at Pimlico. The West Point Thoroughbreds partner spoke about the life of Congie DeVito and the significant role he played in the success of the stable’s Preakness hopeful.
“It’s just a great story; he was such a great person, and he’s got us all here,” said Masiello, whose voice cracked with emotion on several occasions during his heartfelt tribute. “This is the most amazing thing that’s ever happened to us.”
Masiello spoke of DeVito’s courage and the legacy that will always serve as an inspiration to West Point Thoroughbreds founder Terry Finley and his partners.
“He was part of the West Point team for 13 years. Congie was our sales rep, a terrific guy, a quadriplegic who had brittle bone disease and lived his whole life in a wheelchair,” Masiello said. “Last year, Terry bought this horse as a 2-year-old and he was kind of scrawny looking. He was kind of hard to sell, so we turned him over to Congie and said, ‘Congie, we’re getting rid of this horse, because no one in the partnership will be buying him.’”
DeVito accepted the challenge and made a lot of calls to put together an ownership group before telling Finley that the only way he’ll complete the sale is if he could name the colt after himself. Thus, the son of Badge of Silver was named King Congie.
“He was such an outspoken, wonderful, positive personality. Probably the biggest personality that I’ve met,” Masiello said.
Congie DeVito passed away on Feb. 16 at the age of 35 but not before his confidence in the once-scrawny colt was rewarded when he became a stakes winner while capturing the Tropical Park Derby at Calder on Jan. 1.
ANIMAL KINGDOM – A small session of gate school was part of the Kentucky Derby winner’s activities during a quiet Thursday morning at Fair Hill Training Center.
Trainer Graham Motion said the Team Valor International colt jogged a half-mile on the dirt track, stood in the starting gate for a while and then galloped about 1 ¼ miles. The morning exercise was done on the dirt because the gate is stationed on that track at the training facility 60 miles northeast of Pimlico. Motion said the colt is great around the gate, but it is standard procedure in his stable to send horses to the gate before they are scheduled to race.
Animal Kingdom will ship to Pimlico Saturday morning for the 136th running of the Preakness, which has a post time of 6:20 p.m. The colt won the Derby from post No. 16 in a field of 19 runners. Motion was pleased when he drew post No. 11 in the field of 14 for the Preakness.
“I couldn’t be happier. I think it’s great,” Motion said. “That’s what I would have hoped for. It would have been a shame to draw one of the really extreme positions, because then you feel like you’re being compromised somewhat. That would be a shame.”
With nine of the Preakness runners on the grounds at Pimlico, Motion said there were far fewer visitors at Fair Hill than on Wednesday when about two dozen members of the media watched the colt train.
“Yesterday was a frenzy,” he said. “Today is much quieter.”
Motion’s Derby victory brought him an invitation to throw out the ceremonial first pitch of the game between the New York Yankees and Baltimore Orioles Thursday night at Camden Yards.
“It will be kind of cool,” he said.
Motion said he attended many games at Camden Yards earlier in his career when his stable was based at Laurel Park, but hasn’t been to the stadium since he moved his stable to Fair Hill in the early 2000s.
Chuckling, Motion said his baseball skills are “minimal.”
“But anyone who has an 8-year-old at least has some idea of what they are doing,” he said.
ASTROLOGY – As it turned out, the stars lined up for the A.P. Indy colt’s appearance in the Preakness.
When sickness earlier this year affected his schedule, the Kentucky Derby was taken off the schedule of likely starts for the colt owned by Stonestreet Stable and George Bolton. His two races this season were seconds in the Sunland Derby and the Jerome.
“It was the equivalent of the flu in a human being. It was not a cold,” Bolton said Thursday. “He was sick and we lost a month due to it. So we had to kind of backtrack.
“He had had five starts, so no one panicked about being kind of behind the eight-ball, but then it looked like he wasn’t going to get the number of starts he needed to go to Churchill Downs, so it was a fairly easy decision to skip (the Derby) and do the Jerome with the Preakness as the goal.
“He ran well enough in the Jerome. He was pinned on the rail and lost a little ground going around the turn, it was very muddy, and he came flying at the end. They thought it was a good enough effort to keep going, not to backtrack, but to take another shot going forward with him. That’s why we’re here.
“This is a fun race and a lot of great horses, a lot of great stallions, win this race. It’s easily got the prestige, in terms of that, that the Derby does.”
Hall of Famer Mike Smith will ride Astrology, who is trained by Steve Asmussen.
CONCEALED IDENTITY – After breezing three furlongs in 36 1/5 seconds the previous morning, Linda Gaudet and Morris Bailey’s Concealed Identity had a light training schedule at Bowie Race Course Thursday morning.
“He had a light day, because he worked yesterday. He jogged backwards to the gate. He stood in the gate. In fact, he stood in the gate at same time Norman Asbjornson was there. He jogged home with the pony. He’s right on schedule,” said Linda Gaudet, wife of trainer Eddie Gaudet.
Like the Kentucky Derby horses in the Preakness field, Concealed Identity will be returning to action with two weeks rest, having captured the Federico Tesio Stakes by two lengths at Pimlico on May 7.
“The two-week timetable is never ideal for a nice horse who just put in a big effort. But we thought the Tesio was probably an easier race than the allowance race,” said Gaudet, whose colt won an allowance at Pimlico prior to the Tesio. “He won it pretty easily and came out of it great. When he started back training, he was just full of himself. That gave us the encouragement to move forward.”
Sheldon Russell will ride Concealed Identity.
DANCE CITY – Sporting a new shorter haircut, trainer Todd Pletcher was upbeat about his lightly raced son of City Zip Thursday morning after sending the colt out for a 1 ¼-mile gallop over the sealed Pimlico surface, followed by an uneventful visit to the starting gate.
“Everything went smoothly,” Pletcher said. “We’re optimistic. The horse has always run well. He’s always run competitively. Obviously, he’s had a little bit of spacing between the races. He’s trained well, and I think the Arkansas Derby has shown to be one of the key preps. I like the post position (8) and on paper I like the way the race shapes up.”
Dance City has won two of four starts, finishing less than two lengths behind Arkansas Derby winner Archarcharch in his stakes debut at odds of nearly 30-1. Runner-up Nehro went on to run second in the Kentucky Derby.
“He’s a horse that we’ve always had high hopes for,” said Pletcher, who is looking for the final leg of a personal Triple Crown in the Preakness. “He showed us a lot in his training as a 2-year-old.”
About the only thing different in the Preakness for Dance City will be rider Ramon Dominguez, many times a Maryland riding champion before he moved to New York. Pletcher said he believes the colt has enough pedigree on his dam’s side (Pleasant Colony mare) to make a classic distance.
“He’s the kind of horse that gives you the impression he’ll improve as he matures physically and mentally,” said Pletcher, who saddled Super Saver for a victory in last year’s Derby and Rags to Riches for an historic win in the 2007 Belmont Stakes. “He’s a very growthy, leggy kind of colt that has more speed than you would think by looking at him. We think he’s kind of grown into himself finally and hope he’s ready to run his best race.”
Pletcher also reported that 2-year-old champion Uncle Mo, a scratch from the Kentucky Derby, is improving on the farm and has put on 30 pounds, but no timetable for a return to the races has been established from an as-yet undiagnosed digestive system ailment.
DIALED IN – Robert LaPenta’s Florida Derby winner galloped 1 ½ miles under exercise rider Stacy Pryor Thursday morning after arriving at Pimlico from Churchill Downs on Wednesday afternoon.
The stretch-running son of Mineshaft finished eighth in the Kentucky Derby, but trainer Nick Zito has taken comfort in the fact that his colt was able to close from last in the field of 19 by running the last half-mile in just over 47 seconds.
“That usually wins,” Zito said.
Unfortunately, for Dialed In and his Hall of Fame trainer, Shackleford was allowed to show the way while setting the slowest fractions for many years – which pretty much dashed his late-running colt’s chance of winning.
“This is his style of running. He loves what he’s doing and we’re not going to change it. We just have to hope for a decent pace, just a normal pace,” Zito said. “When I say a normal pace, I mean not :48 and 1:13.”
Dialed In will be running for a $5.5 million bonus in Saturday’s Preakness Stakes. The Holy Bull (G3) and Florida Derby (G1) winner is the only horse in the field for the Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown eligible for the top prize of the Preakness 5.5, a bonus series offered by MI Developments. Should he win the Preakness, he would earn a $5 million bonus for his owner and $500,000 for his trainer.
FLASHPOINT – Peachtree Stable’s roan son of Pomeroy got his first glimpse of Pimlico Thursday morning after flying in from Kentucky the day before, galloping over the sealed track following several weeks of exercise over the Polytrack at Keeneland.
“He just got a little feel for the track,” said trainer Wesley Ward, who is making back-to-back Preakness appearances after his Pleasant Prince finished out of the money in 2010. “It’s definitely got tight turns, so I really do believe it favors speed, and that’s an advantage to us.”
Flashpoint has not been worse than third at the midway point of any of his three starts, winning the first two sprinting before settling for fourth money in the Florida Derby in his two-turn debut. Ward took over the training of Flashpoint from Richard Dutrow following the Florida Derby.
Ward said he is coming into this race with a little more confidence than last year, although he is still getting to know the colt.
“The best horse is going to win most of the time, but this race historically has had an advantage to horses that kind of get the rail and race forwardly,” he said.
After winning the seven-furlong Hutcheson at Gulfstream Park in 1:22 and going 1:09 3/5 in his six-furlong debut at Aqueduct, Flashpoint seems destined to be one of the pace factors here. His ability to negotiate the Preakness distance of 1 3/16 miles and his lack of experience with only three starts are question marks.
“Mr. (John) Fort gave me a mission to get him ready for the Preakness, and that’s what we’ve done,” Ward said. “Any trainer is lucky to have a horse in any of these three (Triple Crown) races.”
Peachtree, which upset the Kentucky Oaks with Plum Pretty two weeks ago, was second in the 2001 Kentucky Derby with Invisible Ink. Flashpoint is the stable’s first Preakness starter.
ISN’T HE PERFECT – Trainer Doodnauth Shivmangal put the most heavily campaigned Preakness runner (12 career starts) through his final paces at Belmont Park Thursday morning before loading him onto a van around noon for an approximately four-hour trip to Pimlico.
“He galloped once around” the sloppy Belmont training track, according to Shivmangal, who said he didn’t want to take any chances on what he called a “very bad” racetrack. The son of Pleasantly Perfect ran fifth on a sloppy sealed surface at Aqueduct in the Jerome on April 23 in his most recent start with Channing Hill. He will be ridden on Saturday by former Maryland riding champ and Hall of Famer Edgar Prado.
Shivmangal said that will be the only change for his colt, who began his career on turf because of the South American dam’s pedigree influence. After two failed grass starts, he was moved to dirt and broke his maiden last November in a maiden claiming race at Aqueduct. He has always run in blinkers.
“He likes to run at horses,” said Shivmangal, who secured the colt’s second victory this March in a starter allowance race before taking on tougher 3-year-olds in the Wood Memorial and Jerome. “He likes to have a target, so I like to try to cover him up between horses and let him make a move after the three-eighths. You never know what might happen to the race or how the track plays.”
Isn’t He Perfect drew post 12 and was listed at odds of 30-1 by linemaker Frank Carulli for the colt’s first venture outside the Empire State. This will be the first Preakness runner for Shivmangal, a Guyana native training for his cousin’s Kharag Stables.
MIDNIGHT INTERLUDE – Trainer Bob Baffert expects a better performance from the War Chant colt in the Preakness than he delivered while finishing 16th in the Kentucky Derby winner.
Arnold Zetcher’s Santa Anita Derby winner drew post No. 7 in the Preakness field, and jockey Martin Garcia, who regularly rides Baffert’s stakes horses, will replace Victor Espinoza.
Baffert, a five-time winner of the Preakness, is in position to win the race in consecutive years for the third time. He doubled with Silver Charm in 1997 and Real Quiet in 1998, came back for two in a row with Point Given in 2001 and War Emblem in 2002 and snagged his fifth Preakness with Lookin At Lucky last year.
Midnight Interlude was the fifth choice in the wagering at 9-1, but struggled adapting to a slow early pace and a large field, according to his trainer. He never was in contention in the later stages of the race and finished 17 ¾ lengths behind Animal Kingdom.
“We had a loaded gun, but apparently we didn’t have any powder.” Baffert said. “I think he just lost interest. It was really unexplainable. I was very puzzled with the effort. He broke well, he was right there and then he got shuffled back down and was off the pace. He’s used to running up close in the clear. He’s still green.
“I didn’t think it was going to happen when I drew the 15. I thought, ‘he will be in a good place,’ but it didn’t happen like I thought it was going to work out.”
Baffert said the race took so little out of Midnight Interlude that it looked like he was recovered the next day. Still, Baffert waited until the colt worked three furlongs Monday at Churchill Downs before he confirmed that the colt was headed to the Preakness.
“It seems like he’s bounced out of his race and looks sharper for this race than he did going into the Derby,” Baffert said.
“The track for the Kentucky Derby is not the same track that we run on every year. They really had it dug up; it was pretty cuppy that day. I remember walking over there and it was real cuppy. Some horses struggle with it. Usually, it’s nice and tight. I think there is a lot of pressure now to keep it slower,” he said. “They went 1:13; those horses are supposed to be going in 1:11. It’s not like the fractions were slow, it was slow because it was a pretty demanding track that day.”
Baffert said that Garcia needs to ride an aggressive race, no matter the pace, for Midnight Interlude to be successful.
“It’s not the fractions,” Baffert said. “He just needs to put him in the race. He needs to put him in the race, keep him on the bit and give him a chance to be there. He will keep going, but he didn’t like being taken back.”
MR. COMMONS – Owner Ian Banwell spent Thursday morning at Pimlico watching his colt train for the Preakness and taking in some of the activities around the now-lively stakes barn.
Mr. Commons was one of the nine Preakness runners who arrived at the track Wednesday morning. The Artie Schiller colt, trained by John Shirreffs, flew from California to Kentucky on Tuesday and on to Baltimore on Wednesday. The colt galloped at Pimlico and tried to chew on Shirreff’s hand while he was being bathed.
Banwell owns St. George Farm in Lexington, home to about 25 broodmares, and though he has been active in the Thoroughbred business for more than a decade, he wasn’t aiming for the Preakness or the other races in the Triple Crown. Mr. Commons, who was third in the Santa Anita Derby, has changed that approach, at least this year.
“We don’t race colts,” Banwell said. “This is a standard broodmare and racing operation. We race about 25, most of those with Watts Humphries.”
Banwell was advised to keep Mr. Commons by bloodstock consultant David Ingordo, Shirreffs’ stepson, and the colt emerged as a stakes runner. Though he is bred for the turf, Mr. Commons has won on grass and dirt and ran very well in his stakes debut in the Santa Anita Derby.
“John is one of the great trainers in the world,” Banwell said. “What he has conveyed to us is that the horse trains every day on the dirt and he has never seen him not like the surface. It’s really sort of his home surface. We had him on the grass one time and he clearly looks like he likes grass, but maybe he’s just one of these versatile horses.”
Banwell smiled as he talked about the journey to the Preakness.
“With regards to a classic race, sure, it’s everybody’s dream. It’s certainly mine,” he said. “To be able to have a homebred in a classic is even more special.”
Banwell said the colt’s name has special significance to his family.
“My kids go to Groton School outside of Boston,” Banwell said. “The headmaster of the school, Mr. Commons, is important to my kids. Rich is a great guy.”
MUCHO MACHO MAN – Reeves Thoroughbred Racing and Dream Team Racing’s Mucho Macho Man galloped about two miles and visited the starting gate Thursday morning after vanning to Pimlico from Belmont Park the day before.
The leggy colt, who finished third in the Kentucky Derby, continues to impress trainer Kathy Ritvo with his easy-going nature and model behavior.
“He’s one of the easiest horses to gallop, everyone tells me. All my riders say it’s unbelievable how good he is,” said Ritvo, whose colt was ridden by exercise rider Herberto Pugar Thursday morning. “If you want him to go, he’ll go. If you don’t, he’ll fall asleep galloping. He’ll be just like a pony. He doesn’t waste a lot of energy. I think that’s why he’s a good horse.”
Ritvo was impressed with the calm manner with which Mucho Macho Man handled the commotion that is Kentucky Derby Day. However, the South Florida-based trainer did notice a change in Mucho Macho Man before leaving Belmont Park.
“This workout we had a couple days ago was unbelievable. Usually, he’ll do what you want him to do, unless he sees a horse in front of him. There was no horse in front of him, but when he hit the quarter-pole, he just took off,” she said. “(Jockey) Rajiv (Maragh) said he wanted to do more than I wanted him to do. That’s not like him. Usually, he’s laid back. He was very aggressive.”
Ritvo views her colt’s energy level as a positive sign that Derby didn’t take much out of him.
NORMAN ASBJORNSON – Thomas McClay and Harry Nye’s Norman Asbjornson galloped two miles and schooled at the starting gate Thursday morning at Bowie Training Center. The son of 1998 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Real Quiet has had his troubles in the starting gate in many of his races, so trainer Chris Grove has scheduled regular schooling sessions in the gate. The Maryland native has been pleased with his colt’s behavior during training hours.
“I don’t know if he knows the difference between the morning and the afternoon, or if he’s just starting to mature,” Grove said.
The namesake for Norman Asbjornson was present at Thursday’s morning’s Alibi Breakfast, seated with Grove and Nye, a longtime business associate.
“I’m a CEO of a heating/air conditioning company in Tulsa, Oklahoma. We manufacture commercial heating and air conditioning. Harry represents us in Eastern Pennsylvania. He made a lot of money representing us, and he called me up and asked me if he could name the horse after me, because he thought I was a lucky man and knew how to make a lot of money,” Asbjornson said. “I thought it was quite an honor, and the rest is history. I believe he’s going to do well on Saturday.”
Norman Asbjornson, the horse, drew the No. 2 post for Saturday’s Preakness Stakes and will be ridden by Maryland-based jockey Julian Pimentel.
SHACKLEFORD – Owners Michael Lauffer and W.D. Cubbedge were trackside to watch their speedy son of Forestry jog 1 ½ miles under exercise rider Faustino Ramos. He then stood in the gate on a gray Thursday Pimlico morning before returning to his stall in the Preakness Stakes Barn.
“He just bounced around over it,” said trainer Dale Romans, who arrived in Baltimore the day before. “He’s worked on wet tracks before. It was fine.”
Shackleford drew post 5 in the 14-horse field. Shackleford has shown plenty of speed in his last two starts, setting a rather pedestrian pace in the Derby before holding on for fourth money.
“They had a nice, easy slow pace, but they flew home,” said Romans, whose pacesetting First Dude nearly stole last year’s Preakness before finishing second. “He (Shackleford) came home fast, too, just not fast enough.”
The Derby actually turned out to be Shackleford’s fastest race in terms of speed figures, and Romans is hoping that a cutback in distance from 1 ¼ miles to 1 3/16 miles will work in his favor.
“I’m sure we’re not going to get the same pace scenario we got in the Derby (1:13 2/5 for six furlongs) with Flashpoint and a couple others in the race, but a mile and three-sixteenths should be right up his alley,” he said.
Jesus Castanon will be aboard the Florida Derby runner-up, who stands to earn an additional $550,000 from MI Developments’ Preakness 5.5 bonus should he win the Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown.
SWAY AWAY – Assistant trainer Miguel Carranza sent out the good-looking chestnut colt to a sealed sloppy track at Pimlico Thursday morning for his first gallop, while trainer Jeff Bonde was preparing to make the cross-country flight from California.
“Then he stood in the gate and he looked pretty good,” said Carranza, who borrowed exercise rider Frank Herrarte from fellow Californian John Shirreffs (Mr. Commons) for the activity. On Wednesday, the son of 2005 Preakness winner Afleet Alex drew post No. 6 in the 14-horse field.
“I think it’s going to be a complete opposite of the Derby,” said racing manager Mersad Metanovic. “I believe there’s plenty of speed. I think there will be a lot of pressure on the jockeys to actually ride their horses and put them in the race early.”
A rapid pace would play into the style of Sway Away, who has been taken back in all four of his stakes starts, most recently the Arkansas Derby, in which he finished fourth.
“You’ve got Astrology on the rail, Flashpoint in the 4-hole, Shackleford in the 5-hole and you’ve got Dance City coming out of an outside post,” Metanovic said. “Those will be your first four horses going into that first turn most likely. There will be a good pace.”
Sway Away hasn’t won since his maiden-breaker in June of 2010, and he was the last horse left out of the Kentucky Derby based on graded-stakes earnings.
“He is coming up to his best race,” Metanovic predicted. “I would be surprised if he doesn’t run his best race.”